CHICAGO – You can be sure there would be a huge outcry if Illinois state lawmakers tried to lower the number of school districts in the state.
That would be bad news for them, but very good news for taxpayers and K-12 students.
Illinois has more than 850 school districts, which is a lot more than most states. By comparison, Florida, another large and heavily populated state, has roughly 70, according to a September article published by the Illinois Policy Institute.
Many of the administrators perform important jobs. But they don’t teach kids, and they cost school districts big dollars. With money always tight in public schools, every dollar that can be spent in the classroom is a plus.
There would be many more dollars available for classrooms – without raising taxes – if there were fewer expensive school district administrators.
“A 2017 study from the Metropolitan Planning Council, or MPC, is especially bleak,” the IPI article said. “Researchers analyzing data from the U.S. Census Bureau showed Illinois school districts spent $1 billion on district-level administration in fiscal year 2014 – more than any other state. That’s $518 per pupil, which comes in as the second highest rate in the country.
“Bringing that rate down to the national average would save more than $460 million per year, according to the MPC. Those dollars could be funneled directly into the classroom, toward after-school programs, used for improvements, or recouped for much-needed property tax relief.”
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Common sense tells us that those savings could be achieved through school district consolidation.
“Of the state’s more than 850 school districts, about a third serve fewer than 600 students,” the IPI wrote. “An entire district-level bureaucracy to oversee so few students is a waste of tax dollars.
“Illinois Policy Institute research shows that by cutting the number of Illinois school districts in half, Illinois could experience district operating savings of nearly $130 million to $170 million annually, and could conservatively save the state $3 billion to $4 billion in pension costs over the next 30 years.
“A 50 percent reduction might sound extreme to some. But nearly 45 percent of Illinois school districts oversee just one or two schools. There’s plenty of room for district consolidation.”